Homeys on Film — CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

Copyright Marvel Studios

Welcome back to another thrilling episode of Homeys on Film: Homeland Security Lessons From Bad Movies! It’s superhero-on-superhero mayhem! Smash! POW! Ka-BOOM! And, if you look hard enough through the smoke, CGI, spandex, and prosthetic muscles, there are lessons galore for homeland security wonks.

Synopsis

Primo Cap villain and all-around badass Crossbones (copyright Marvel Studios)

In Lagos, Nigeria, a new team of Avengers, led by Captain America (Chris Evans), battles a team of Hydra mercenaries led by Brock Rumlow, also known as Crossbones (Frank Grillo). Crossbones and his team are after a sample of a lethal, highly contagious virus. Trying to evade capture, Crossbones triggers a massive explosion, which is diverted at the last second by the hex powers of the Scarlet Witch (Elisabeth Olsen). Unfortunately, she doesn’t divert it quite high enough, and its force obliterates the seventh story of a neighboring hotel, killing eleven and injuring dozens.

Watch where you’re aiming that hex!!! (copyright Marvel Studios)

Whoops. Not good for the ol’ Avengers PR, especially since their most recent mission, taking down genocidal robot Ultron, incidentally resulted in the devastation of a small Eastern European country (Sokovia — socked by the Avengers, get it?).

Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) curtly informs the Avengers that their days as freelance world-savers are Over with a capital O. The United Nations General Assembly (taking a break from officially condemning Israel) has ratified by overwhelming majority the Sokovia Accords, which places the Avengers’ operations under the supervision and control of a U.N. panel. Ross tells the Avengers that if they don’t sign on to the accord in Vienna three days hence, they will be forced into retirement (which would be really, really bad news for Disney).

Things are really BOOMING at the U.N. (copyright Marvel Studios)

The debate among the Avengers on how to respond to the U.N. reveals a deep fissure between members of the team, with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., everyone’s favorite arms salesman to the U.S. military) strongly favoring signing onto the Sokovia Accords and Captain America (champion of liberty, apple pie, and Betty Grable pinups) equally vehemently opposed. Matters don’t get any easier in Vienna. King T’Chaka (John Kani), whose African nation, Wakanda, lost several citizens in the Lagos tragedy, takes the podium for a speech in favor of the Accords, only to be killed when a bomb detonates outside the building. Huge bummer for Captain America — security video shows the man who detonated the bomb was Cap’s old WW2 buddy, Bucky Barnes, now known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who has been under the control of nefarious forces since the Cold War. Cap and his fellow Avenger, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) realize they must track down Bucky before a German military task force, who have orders to shoot to kill, find him.

Team Cap! My team is red-hot, your team ain’t doodley-squat! (copyright Marvel Studios)

Cap’s and the Widow’s efforts to protect Bucky (who has been framed) lead to conflict with the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), son of the slain King T’Chaka, and with various Avengers. The villainous Colonel Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is revealed as the mastermind who has used Bucky’s Soviet-implanted code word to revert him to remote control. Captain America assembles a covert team composed of the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to free Bucky from Zemo’s influence and to stop the evil colonel’s plot to activate a number of Soviet-era super-soldier sleeper agents and send them against his enemies.

Kid Spider-Man proves his worth (copyright Marvel Studios)

However, since Cap and company have apparently gone off the reservation, Iron Man assembles his own Avengers team to take them down. His allies include Black Panther, Black Widow, War Machine (Don Cheadle), the Vision (Paul Bettany), and a teenaged newcomer, Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Audiences get the big, BIG fight they’ve paid their money for. Lil’ itty-bitty Ant-Man surprises everyone by transforming into humongous, king-sized Giant-Man, giving Captain America and Bucky space to flee to an airplane hanger and continue to pursue Zemo. Wet-behind-the-ears Spider-Man proves his worth by bringing down the suddenly formidable Giant-Man with his webs. However, tragedy ensues when the Vision, trying to take down the Falcon with his solar eye beams, instead hits his ally War Machine, knocking him from the sky and severely injuring him.

Iron Man views evidence that indicates that Bucky was framed for the Vienna explosion. He rockets off to Siberia to assist Captain America and Bucky with their foiling of Zemo’s plans. But Zemo’s greatest, most diabolical plot is yet to unfold. At an abandoned Soviet-era military base in Siberia, Zemo shows Iron Man/Tony Stark old video footage of the Winter Soldier, under Soviet mind control, assassinating Tony Stark’s parents, Howard and Maria Stark. Furthermore, it turns out that Captain America was aware of at least aspects of the assassination and never revealed this to his good friend, Iron Man.

Iron Man and the Winter Soldier throw down! (copyright Marvel Studios)

In a blind rage, Iron Man attacks Bucky and Captain America. He manages to rip off Bucky’s cyborg arm, but Captain America uses his indestructible shield to disable Iron Man’s armor. Cap and Bucky take off. Zemo is apprehended by the Black Panther, who has overheard him confess his responsibility for the explosion that killed King T’Chaka. The reason behind all the scheming? Zemo lost family members in the Avengers’ war against Ultron in Sokovia, resulting in his vow to destroy the Avengers from within.

The former Avengers who fought beside Captain America against Iron Man’s team have been imprisoned on the Raft, a mid-ocean, floating super-jail. Captain America breaks them out, and the renegade heroes head for sanctuary in Wakanda, the Black Panther’s highly advanced African nation, where the Black Panther, now king, vows to find a cure for Bucky’s susceptibility to mind control. Iron Man and Spider-Man start a bromance. We see a teaser for the next Avengers movie. THE END.

Homeland Security Lesson #1: Kinetic operations against non-state combatants in densely-populated urban environments risk political and public relations harm to the more responsible, law-abiding side.

When mutant hexes go awry… (copyright Marvel Studios)

What gets all the trouble rolling for the Avengers? Their efforts to prevent Crossbones and his Hydra mercenaries from stealing a deadly virus accidentally result in a score of deaths and injuries in Lagos. This unintentional and highly-regretted event (despite the fact that the Avengers’ apprehension of Crossbones likely prevented the deaths of tens thousands from maliciously spread disease) brings the heavy hand of the United Nations down on the Avengers. Both the United States and Israel have experienced this same dynamic at work when their armed forces have pursued terrorists or insurgents in heavily populated urban areas. The enemies of both nations have used civilians as human shields. The U.S. and Israeli militaries have both exercised considerable care to avoid civilian deaths, the latter taking the trouble to telephone individual Gazan Palestinians, who were living in apartment buildings being used by Hamas as weapons depots, prior to Israeli missiles being launched against those structures. However, the fog of war, technical malfunctions, and enemy action have frequently resulted in unintended civilian deaths, for which the U.S. and Israeli armed forces, expected by many to be able to use force with exacting precision, have been unjustly blamed.

Homeland Security Lesson #2: Be aware of the potential for blow-back.

Bye-bye, Sokovia, we hardly knew ye… (copyright Marvel Studios)

The Avengers, in Avengers: Age of Ultron, did not set out with the intention of devastating the small nation of Sokovia; they meant only to save all humanity from the machinations of Utron. Ultron’s actions (levitating Sokovia’s largest city to use as an asteroid weapon to strike Earth and cause a planetary catastrophe which would end all human life, freeing up the planet for robots) led to the destruction of Sokovia and the deaths of many of its citizens, but because the Avengers failed to save them, they were labeled the malefactors by some. One of those bitter Sokovians turned out to be Colonel Zemo, who manages in the current movie to pull off the unlikely hat trick of disrupting and disbanding the Avengers (see Lesson #3 below). Similarly, the successful efforts of the U.S. in the 1980s to arm and train the transnational Islamic mujahideen, whose members included Osama bin Laden, to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan arguably helped lead to the militarization and radicalization of a whole generation of Muslims, many of whom disliked the U.S. as much as they did the Soviet Union. Our efforts helped push the Russians out of Afghanistan and definitely helped weaken the Soviet Union, but they also helped create new cadres of transnational terrorists.

Homeland Security Lesson #3: Beware false-flag operations.

Nefariously clever revenge-seeking evil dude Colonel Zemo (copyright Marvel Studios)

Colonel Zemo, with no super-powers of his own, is able to do something no other villain (not even the supremely powerful Loki) has been able to pull off — smashing the Avengers. He does it not by physically overpowering any of them, but by using deception and psychological tricks to pit them against one another. Some commentators on the War on Terror have come to the conclusion that the greatest harm al-Qaeda has been able to inflict upon the United States has been its complicity in pulling the U.S. into decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, causing the U.S. to expend a trillion dollars and lose thousands of its soldiers and Marines. None of the 9/11 plotters were either Afghans or Iraqis. However, by holding secret meeting with Iraqi government figures and by taking refuge within Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were able to implicate those two governments in their terror activities, enough so to convince the Bush Administration that first the Taliban and later Saddam Hussein needed to be removed from power.

Homeland Security Lesson #4: Sometimes an enemy’s innovation can only be defeated by an innovation of our own.

Ant-Man becomes Giant-Man but is trumped by Spider-Man (copyright Marvel Studios)

Ant-Man’s surprising transformation into Giant-Man nearly turned the tide of battle against Iron Man’s squad. But Iron Man’s team regained the initiative when Spider-Man, a previously unknown quantity, used his web-shooters in a new fashion, winding his webs around Giant-Man’s legs and causing the colossus to topple over onto his face, knocking him out of the fight. Similarly, in Iraq, the insurgents’ innovation of powerful improvised explosive devices (IEDs) caused significant casualties among American troops, who often convoyed in unarmored Humvees. U.S. casualties were radically reduced by the innovation, first carried out by U.S. servicemen acting on their own, and later improved upon by defense contractors, of armoring the undersides of light Army and Marine transport vehicles against roadside bombs. In the same fashion, al-Qaeda’s innovation of using jet airliners as suicide bombs was defeated by a pair of American innovations — the willingness of the passengers on Flight 93 to sacrifice themselves to prevent the terrorists from taking full control of the plane, and the institution of armored cockpit doors on all passenger aircraft.

Superhero stare-down (copyright Marvel Studios)

Homeys on Film: Homeland Security Lessons from Bad Movies

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Synopsis:

Film critics Harry and Michael Medved awarded Plan 9 From Outer Space the trophy for “worst movie ever made” in their 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards (a well-thumbed copy of which sits upon my bookshelf). But anyone with an eye (just one) and a heart can’t honestly classify Plan 9 as a bad film. It belongs to another category entirely — a goobad film, a film so bad it is hilariously good. The primary entertainment value comes from the unintentionally campy performances, the over-the-top script, and the lower-than-low budget production values (watch the cardboard gravestones sway back and forth when the actors scurry by! It’s day! It’s night! No, it’s day again! See the pie tin flying saucer set on fire, then flung across the screen on a string!) And the inclusion of famous-for-never-being-right psychic Criswell as the movie’s host was a grace note which gave the film an otherworldly, surreal gravitas seldom achieved by films at this production level.

Our story begins with an old man (Bela Lugosi, in his posthumous final screen appearance — he’d died three years before, just after shooting some test footage with director Ed Wood, who likely wrote Plan 9 in order to capitalize on his few feet of precious, but soundless, Lugosi footage… see the wonderful film Ed Wood for more details) at his wife’s graveside, mourning her death. There’s a sudden shift to the cockpit of an airplane piloted by the redoubtable Jeff (Gregory Walcott), our hero (the cockpit “set” is little more than a pair of chairs for pilot and copilot and a chintzy curtain which supposedly separates the cockpit from the rest of the plane), which is forced off course by the swift passage of what appears to be a flying saucer. The saucer lands in the graveyard, where its occupants resurrect the old man’s deceased wife (Vampira/Maila Nurmi) as a radio-controlled zombie and sic her on the grave diggers, who die a horrible death (off camera). Back to the old man’s house, we see him wandering out in the road in a befuddled daze, where he is hit by a car (again, off camera). At his funeral, one of the mourners discovers the bodies of the murdered grave diggers (repeat after me… off camera), and the police are called in. The law is represented by Inspector Clay (professional wrestler Tor Johnson) and Lieutenant Harper (Duke Moore). This is the only scene in which Inspector Clay speaks, probably a good choice on Ed Wood’s part, since English dialogue was not Swede Tor Johnson’s strong point as an actor. Clay goes off on his own to investigate the graveyard.

Pilot Jeff is chatting with his wife Paula on their patio about the flying saucer which buzzed his airplane, complaining that the Army has sworn him to secrecy, when another saucer, or perhaps the same one, does a low flyover, knocking the surprised couple out of their chairs. Meanwhile, back in the graveyard, Inspector Clay comes upon the deceased old man (no longer played by Bela Lugosi, but rather by a lightly disguised chiropractor friend of Ed Wood’s) and his equally deceased wife, who menacingly surround him. His gunfire is loud but ineffective, and he collapses within the chiropractor’s black cape, never to be seen in human form again.

Matters come to a head. Three flying saucers are seen flying over (stock footage of) Hollywood, then Washington, DC. The Army decides to make a stand, but their missiles fail to hit the saucers, which appear to be protected by some kind of force field (and the fact that distant smoke puffs are easier and cheaper to simulate than impressive explosions). The commanding general mentions to a subordinate that the saucers have destroyed a small town  and have not responded to attempts at radio communications. We transition to the command room of the lead saucer, where Eros (Dudley Manlove) and his second in command, Tanna (Joanna Lee), confer with their Ruler (John Breckinridge), informing him that they have decided to go with Plan 9, the resurrection of the dead (we never learn what Plans 1-8 were or how they got screwed up). Eros and Tanna, the William Powell and Myrna Loy of extraterrestrial invaders, get the green light from the Ruler (who, to judge from his tone of voice, really couldn’t give a damn). Jeff goes off on another flight, leaving Paula alone in their home.  She is soon menaced by the zombie old man and chased through the cemetery, where zombie Vampira and zombie Clay join the chase. She faints just outside the graveyard and is rescued by a local farmer.

The Army belatedly manages to translate Eros’s earlier transmissions, which began as friendly greetings but later degraded into frustrated, bitchy warnings about Earthlings’ warlike ways. Back on the saucer, the Ruler decides it is time for decisive action, so he commands Eros to send the old man zombie on a kamikaze mission to overawe the Earthlings. The old man zombie attacks a police officer, but before he can kill him, Eros remotely fires a disintegration ray, and the old man zombie crumples into a skeleton before the police officer’s stunned eyes.

The aliens prepare for their upcoming confrontation with the Earthmen. Jeff and an Army officer locate the saucer parked in the graveyard. Eros, feeling the need to soliloquize, opens up the saucer’s hatch and lets the two Earthmen enter. When Jeff tries to get manly with his gun, Eros turns on the viewing screen, which shows zombie Clay carrying an unconscious Paula through the cemetery. Eros has his Lady Macbeth moment, expounding at length on the history of humanity’s weapons development and climaxing in a prediction that, should their progress remain unimpeded, humans will inevitably develop solorbonite, an unstoppable weapon which will destroy the entire universe by exploding all rays from the sun and other stars. Because humans are “stupid, stupid!“, they must be destroyed before they can manage to create and test solorbonite. Out in the graveyard, a police officer manages to brain zombie Clay with a two-by-four, rescuing Paula, which frees Jeff to go into hero mode. He shoots up Eros’s equipment, starting a fire aboard the saucer. Eros and Tanna take off, the saucer becomes an inferno (well, actually a pie tin set on fire with a Bic lighter), it explodes (sort of), Criswell intones a brief eulogy, THE END.

Homeland Security Lesson #1: Guns Aren’t Toys (or Pointers, or Forehead Scratchers)

One might be forgiven for thinking a reminder of this sort wouldn’t be necessary, at least not for homeland security professionals. However, throughout Plan 9 From Outer Space, we are treated to the chuckle-worthy spectacle of Lieutenant Harper gesticulating wildly with his service revolver, using it to point at his coworkers and civilians, and, perhaps most egregiously, using its barrel to scratch his forehead while his finger is on the trigger (one involuntary jerk of his index finger and “hello” drain bamage… err, brain damage).

So is this clownishness just the brash, unrealistic theatrics of an amateurish thespian? Unfortunately, no. This March, 2008 article from the London Daily Mail reported that nearly half of all gun-related injuries involving British police officers were due to an officer’s accidental discharge of a weapon, often during training exercises. The article lists examples including a Thames Valley Police firearms officer accidentally shooting a fellow officer while showing off his Glock pistol, not realizing it was loaded; a London-based diplomatic protection officer shooting himself in the leg while getting into a car; and an airport security officer shooting off the top of his thumb while training with his MP5 sub-machine gun. So, officers, be careful out there on the firing range, okay?

Homeland Security Lesson #2: Future Events Will Affect You in the Future

In the immortal words of The Amazing Criswell (psychic Jeron Criswell King, host of Criswell Predicts and part of Ed Wood’s entourage), “We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I will spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future.” A somewhat pithier commentator, physicist Neils Bohr, was reported to have said, “It is very difficult to predict — especially the future.” Well, just because it’s hard doesn’t excuse us homeland security practitioners from making a good faith effort.

As soon as the Army (or civilian pilots like Jeff) first sighted the flying saucers, military and civilian authorities should have begun a contingency planning process — an assessment of risk. What is risk? The likelihood that a future event will occur, considered in conjunction with the consequence of that event once it has occurred. A common formulation is that Risk = Probability of Threat Event Occurring X Vulnerability of Target X Consequence of Threat Event Occurring. Risk assessments differ depending upon the nature of the threat event: is it unmotivated or motivated? In other words, is your threat vector Mother Nature (or a robot which does not respond to a defender’s inputs but simply carries out preprogrammed instructions — no feedback loop) or an intelligent actor (who may opt to change his attack based on a defender’s actions or barriers encountered)?

Risk assessments for unmotivated threats follow the Probability X Vulnerability X Consequence model. If you have a large enough sample size of prior occurrences, you can calculate an exceedance probability curve, a graph which shows you how likely it is that a new event of a particular type (an earthquake, say) will be at or beyond a certain magnitude (for earthquakes, magnitude on the Richter Scale). If military or governmental analysts were to make the decision that alien incursions do not have intelligent motivation behind them — the incursions are by preprogrammed saucer-shaped robots, say, or the saucers themselves are malignant animals capable of destruction but not intelligent reasoning — AND we make the assumption that the Plan 9 universe experienced all the alien incursions from prior movies of the 1950s, the analysts could set up a chart like the one below.  Each film represents an alien incursion, with the magnitude/consequence of the incursions ranked from least to greatest; the cumulative probability, or the likelihood that an event of this magnitude or greater will happen, is listed in parentheses for each:

Invaders From Mars — it’s all a dream, so fuggedaboudit (1.000)
It Came From Outer Space — aliens just want to repair their damaged spaceship; temporarily kidnap a handful of people and impersonate them, later releasing them unharmed (.941)
The Beast with a Million Eyes — an alien lands in a rural hamlet, mind controls a group of animals and humans (.882)
The Man From Planet X — a handful of English folk mentally controlled for a day; threatened invasion of Earth (not carried out) (.824)
Invasion of the Saucer Men — aliens inject a handful of teenagers with alcohol from their fingernails, kill one teenager through alcohol poisoning (.765)
The Thing From Another World — two scientists killed by being drained of blood (.706)
The Monolith Monsters — one man killed, other persons partially petrified, several towns smashed by toppling monoliths (.647)
It Conquers the World — alien turns off all the world’s electrical power, mind controls hundreds, kills two  (.588)
The Day the Earth Stood Still — all electric power shut down, all motorized devices stop working, probably results in at least a handful of deaths (not shown)  (.529)
This Island Earth — scientific facility incinerated from the air, killing all occupants (.471)
Target Earth — alien robots invade Chicago, causing the city to be evacuated, killing at least a couple of dozen soldiers and civilians (.412)
The Blob — alien organism absorbs the substance of about a hundred people (.353)
The Mysterians — a few hundred deaths from an alien-caused earthquake  (.294)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers — aliens impersonate and replace all the inhabitants of a small town, killing them in the process, and spread their plot to surrounding communities (.235)
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers — Flying saucers with death rays attack Washington, London, Paris, and Moscow, likely killing tens of thousands (.176)
The War of the Worlds — alien warships destroy all of Earth’s major cities, presumably killing tens of millions directly, hundreds of millions through secondary effects (.118)
Robot Monster — Ro-Man kills everyone on Earth except for eight survivors, who are immune to his death ray for some reason (.059)

So, if the above list constituted Earth’s prior experience with alien incursions and these incursions were considered as unmotivated events (Mother Nature or robots which do not respond to feedback), then an analyst asked to state the probability of the Plan 9 saucer incursion causing at least one death (or a worse outcome) would list that likelihood at 76.5%. If the threshold were set at a hundred deaths, the predicted likelihood of that number of deaths or worse would be 35.3%, or the likelihood of the deaths of tens of millions, up to the near-extinction of humanity, would be 11.8%. Given those odds, it would certainly behoove the military to put forth a maximum effort to destroy the saucers (more so than launching a handful of ground-to-air missiles and then shrugging their shoulders). However (and this is a big however), our heroes quickly learned that the deadly saucers were guided by active intelligences (not that I’d place Eros, Tarra, and the Ruler too high on the smarts scale, but still). So, pure Risk = Probability X Vulnerability X Consequence estimates no longer apply. The authorities would need to engage in Attacker-Defender analysis. Which leads us into our next Homeland Security Lesson…

Homeland Security Lesson #3: Try to See Events and Situations Through Your Adversary’s Cultural Lens

A key element of red teaming analysis (of which Attacker-Defender analysis is one type) is making an honest effort to see through your adversary’s eyes. What are his motivations and goals? What constitutes success in his world? What are his cultural prohibitions and cultural aspirations?

Had the military done this with Eros and crew, they might have avoided much fuss had they sent a different interlocutor (say, Neils Bohr instead of Jeff & co.), then invited Eros and the Ruler out for a pleasant evening in San Francisco, perhaps visits to a leather bar and a transvestite show. Eros might have decided that Earthmen aren’t actually “stupid, stupid!” (apart from Jeff, Paula, Inspector Clay, Lieutenant Harper, etc. etc.) Had the Plan 9 planners gotten to know our better specimens, they would have realized we would never do anything so risky and self-destructive as invent solorbonite. After all, our physicists would never be reckless enough to test a weapon which might result in a chain reaction that would destroy the world…

Logo for Homeys on Film: Homeland Security Lessons from Bad Movies

I’ve been working on a Master’s Degree in Homeland Security Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School. One of our assignments is a group project to start a homeland security-related blog. My team’s contribution will be called Homeys on Film: Homeland Security Lessons from Bad Movies. The “business plan” is to provide springboards to discussions of homeland security best practices by snarking on awful examples of policing, intelligence work, civil defense, or international relations from (mostly) bad films. We’ll be providing content ourselves (see one of my recent posts for an example, this one snarking on King Kong vs. Godzilla), and we’ll be inviting our readers to submit content. I think lots of you (especially those of you involved in public safety, public health, or homeland security professions) will have a lot of fun plugging your favorite/least-favorite movies and your homeland security lessons into our simple template.

I’ll be providing more details as I get them. In the meantime, here’s our new logo! (Can anyone guess which movie the image comes from? Hint — it was Bela Lugosi’s last film, and it starred Tor Johnson).

Homeys on Film logo

New Story Published: “Youth Will Be Served”

Who knows what lurks beneath those waves, what awaits the swimmers?

Who knows what lurks beneath those waves, what awaits the swimmers?

I had a story published in the February issue of Nightmare Magazine, “Youth Will Be Served.” It is a dark fantasy set in the Miami Beach of the 1990s, when South Beach’s Art Deco District was on the cusp between decay and revitalization. Both text and audio versions are available online. Please have a look or a listen!

Homeys on Film: Homeland Security Lessons from Bad Movies

Copyright 1964 Toho Films

Copyright 1964 Toho Films

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Synopsis:

In Japan, the head of the Pacific Pharmaceutical Company decides his marketing campaign needs a big boost. Come up with a new advertising jingle? Hire a down-on-her-luck movie star to do personal appearances? Hand out free samples at school playgrounds? No — find a giant monster to put on display! The director hires a pair of explorers to to Faro Island in the Solomon Islands chain, where rumor has it that a gigantic beast traps the natives in a web of fear.

Meanwhile, an American nuclear submarine, on patrol in the Arctic, comes across an iceberg emitting a strange, green glow. While checking it out, the sub’s crew accidentally ram the iceberg… and, wouldn’t you know it, end up freeing Godzilla from his icy prison (where the big lizard had been trapped since the end of Godzilla Raids Again).

On Faro Island, the two explorers and their assistant hook up with the local natives just before a giant octopus(!) emerges from the sea and attacks the village. The natives’ god, King Kong, arrives on the scene and drives away the octopus. Luckily, the villagers have already prepared an offering for Kong, a medicinal berry brew that the big ape happily laps up and which causes him to take a blissful nap. While Kong is snoozing, the explorers build a huge raft, drag him onto the raft, and tow him back toward Japan… because Japan is short on destructive giant monsters, obviously.

Back in Japan, Godzilla has made his big entrance, stomping on a commuter train and several villages, heading for Tokyo. Out at sea, Kong awakens and starts playing tug-of-war with the ship which is towing him, which prompts the crew to blow up the raft. This is but a temporary inconvenience for Kong, a strong swimmer, who does his Mark Spitz thing and begins breast-stroking toward Japan and his eventual meet-up with Godzilla.

A television commentator helpfully opines that Godzilla and Kong are natural enemies (because, as every small school child knows, dinosaurs and giant gorillas clashed every single day during the Jurassic Period). The Japanese army digs a huge pit filled with explosives to trap and hopefully kill Godzilla. Kong arrives and has an inconclusive first battle with the radioactive dinosaur, not appreciating Godzilla’s ability to set his chest hair on fire. Godzilla laughs off the pit filled with explosives but is deterred by the army’s fall-back plan, an electrical barrier which shocks him with a million volts. However, Kong has a very different reaction to the high-tension wires — he chews on them like they’re linguine, delighting in the tasty electricity, which makes him feel like he’s on top of a cool and wintry mountain (no, that’s York’s Peppermint Patties); er, which tickles his innards (no, that’s Mountain Dew); well, which gives him a buzz at least as good as what he got from the berry juice back on Faro Island.

Speaking of those handy berries, the authorities get their hands on a batch and form it into berry bombs, which they detonate around Kong’s head while he is reprising his old star-turn atop New York’s Empire State Building, this time atop the Tokyo Tower. Kong takes another pleasant nap while the military comes up with yet another brilliant plan, this time hooking Kong up to gigantic helium-filled balloons so they can dump him into the crater atop Mount Fuji. The big ape’s peaceful slumber is interrupted by the roar of Godzilla below. Kong awakens, disentangles himself from the balloons, and drops onto his foe. Their battle resumes, and Kong is once again getting the worst of it, until a thunderstorm brews up. Lightning strikes the weakened Kong, not only restoring his strength, but also giving him the temporary superpower of shooting electrical bolts from his hairy fingertips. He uses this new power to befuddle and shock Godzilla, and the two end up wrestling, then tumbling off a high cliff into the ocean. Only Kong emerges from the depths (and, no, the rumor that the Japanese domestic version of the movie had Godzilla emerging triumphant is false). Having seen enough of Japan for one 91-minute feature, he swims back toward Faro Island, perhaps anticipating a nice repast of berry juice and calamari.

Homeland Security Lesson #1: Be Willing to Increase the Intensity of Your Defensive Measure

Copyright Toho Films

Copyright Toho Films

In the first Godzilla movie, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the Japanese military attempted to halt Godzilla’s advance towards the heart of Tokyo by erecting a set of power lines which carried three hundred thousand volts. This proved insufficient; Godzilla walked right through it. Two movies later, in King Kong vs. Godzilla, they upped the voltage to a million volts, which had the desired effect of making Godzilla steer clear. However, this leads into our next lesson…

Homeland Security Lesson #2: What Has Worked in the Past Will Not Necessarily Work Now

Copyright Toho Films

Copyright Toho Films

Homeland security defenders must accept the painful fact that their antagonists will learn and change, altering tactics and taking on new, more potent capabilities. In the very next film in the series, Godzilla vs. the Thing (aka Godzilla vs. Mothra), the Japanese army tries to repeat its success with defensive power lines, but in the interim, Godzilla has upped his game, and just like in the first film in the series, he wades right through the electrical barrier, trashing the expenditure of millions of yen.

Homeland Security Lesson #3: What Works Against One Antagonist May Not Work as Well Against Another

Copyright Toho Films

Copyright Toho Films

Yes, those million volts of electricity deterred Godzilla. However, when Kong entered the picture, what didn’t destroy him only made him stronger. In fact, the electricity, rather than repelling him, arguably attracted him deeper into Japan looking for more of the same, since he found a million volts so delectable.

Homeland Security Lesson #4: If Your Primary Tool is a Hammer, You Mustn’t Assume That Your Foe Will Necessarily Act Like a Nail

Copyright Toho Films

Copyright Toho Films

Organizations, like individuals, can become prey to habits. Particularly organizations like branches of the military, which are tied into long, costly procurement cycles. If an army is heavy with tanks and self-propelled artillery, it will tend to want to use those tools… again and again. This is not necessarily wise. Tanks and artillery have never, never, NEVER worked against Godzilla. Not in the first movie, not in the second movie, not in the third… not once, not ever. Godzilla laughs at tanks and artillery. He takes great amusement from watching the tanks melt beneath his radioactive breath and the tank crews jump out of the hatches and run around on fire until they crumble into ashes. The Japanese army wasted its money for decades on tanks and artillery, until they finally wised up in the later films and began investing in more reasoned and advanced anti-Godzilla technology, such as Mechagodzilla and Super X versions I-III. None of those expensive procurements worked, either, but at least they weren’t so obviously futile as the tank battalions. The only truly effective anti-Godzilla technology ever fielded, arguably, was Dr. Serizowa’s Oxygen Destroyer from the first film, but the army looked askance at it since they hadn’t invented it (or paid for it), and they never bothered to redevelop it after its inventor committed suicide and destroyed the formula. Better to spend the money on more tanks, I suppose…

Homeland Security Lesson #5: The Enemy of Your Enemy is Not Necessarily Your Friend

King-Kong-vs-Godzilla photo 2

Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan; I imagine every general on the Japanese army staff was clamoring to claim credit for the supposedly inspired strategy of pitting the more pliable King Kong against the more dangerous foe, Godzilla. However, this strategy could just as easily have gone badly awry. Kong, after apparently vanquishing Godzilla, made the decision to call it a day and head back for Faro Island. But he just as plausibly might have headed back to the coast of Japan. After all, Japan had offered him the enticements of (a) abundant electricity and (b) attractive young girls to paw. And Kong’s feet were just as broad as Godzilla’s, just as capable of stomping rural hamlets into the mud or of kicking over Tokyo radio towers and bashing in venerable Shinto shrines. The Japanese military got lucky. They shouldn’t count on that luck.

King Kong vs Godzilla photo 1

See you next week for more Homeys on Film!

Heading Off to Balticon 49

B46title

This Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, the family and I will be at Balticon, Maryland’s largest science fiction convention, and one of the bigger regional cons on the East Coast. We haven’t gone to a convention as a family in a couple of years, due to health concerns and other worries, so this is a bit of a milestone for us. Balticon has always been one of my kids’ favorites, due to their terrific kids’ programming.

Here’s the programming I’m scheduled for, in case you’ll be able to join us:

Saturday, May 23

11:00 AM Readings: Andrew Fox, Elektra Hammond, Larry Hodges (Chesapeake)

I’ll be reading a selection from Fat White Vampire Otaku.

Sunday, May 24

12:00 PM Putting a Pretty Face on Small Press (Parlor)
Scott E Pond (M), Andrew Fox, Gail Z. Martin, Alex Shvartsman, Patrick Thomas

Covers, often the bane of small press publishers. How do you put out a nice looking book without breaking the bank? What do you need to know when designing those covers and selecting cover art? What pitfalls should you watch out for that could mean the difference between looking pro and not.

2:00 PM Starting your own Small Press (Pimlico)
Dave Robison (M), Andrew Fox, Gary L Lester, Alex Shvartsman

Taxes, registration, a company name… there are so many things to consider before you even start. Learn some of the things you should be aware of before you take that plunge into the publishing mogul pool.

9:00 PM Mom and Dad Let Me Watch WHAT? (Chase)
Katie Bryski, Andrew Fox, Nate Nelson, THE JOHN VAUGHAN

Phasers a-blazing, starships exploding, steamy alien/elven love, and vicious clowns. Come out to discuss our earliest experiences with science fiction, fantasy, and horror–and they’ve shaped us as writers today.

11:00 AM SF/F Mysteries (Chase)
Sarah Pinsker (M), Andrew Fox, John L French

From Bester’s The Demolished Man to Jo Walton’s Farthing and Chris Moriarty’s Spin State. Robot detectives and vampire detectives and android detectives. Parlor mysteries and space station mysteries. The tools of the trade in the past (Sherlock Holmes’ very Victorian method of deduction) and the future (AI, bugs, drones).

At-the-door registration rates are:
Adult Child (6-12)
Full Weekend $65 $33
Friday $32 $16
Saturday $45 $23
Sunday $40 $20
Sunday/Monday $50 $25
Monday $17 $8

For more information, go to the Balticon homepage.

I hope to run into some of you there! It’s always a good show.

Arsenal of Democracy Flyover Celebrates V E Day’s 70th Anniversary

Formation of Boeing PT-17 Kadet trainers

Formation of Boeing PT-17 Kadet trainers

I was very fortunate to be close to the National Mall in Washington, DC just before noon today. Otherwise, I would’ve missed a once-in-a-lifetime sight. In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of V E Day, the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945, the skies over Washington hosted the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover, a massed overflight of most of the still flight-worthy American warbirds of World War 2. (All photos were taken by my friend and coworker Tony Tortora, whose camera was vastly superior to mine.)

The weather on the National Mall was warm and humid, and thousands of people staked out either positions that gave them an unobstructed view of the skies around the Washington Monument or a place in the shade of a tree (I tried for a combination of both). The various formations of aircraft flew overhead in the order in which they were deployed during various campaigns during the conflict. The first aircraft to appear were the trainers, mostly biplanes (Boeing PT-17 Cadets are pictured above), in which the Army Air Force and Navy pilots learned their skills.

Consolidated B-24 Liberator medium bomber

Consolidated B-24 Liberator medium bomber

The Liberator medium bombers were the mainstay of early American bombing missions over Germany and other European targets. Their bifurcated tail assemblies make them very distinctive.

Vought F4U Corsair fighters

Vought F4U Corsair fighters

The F4U Corsair fighters flew off American carriers in the Pacific and were instrumental in late American victories over the Japanese Navy and Army, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa. They, along with the Grumman Hellcat fighters, gave American pilots decisive superiority over the Japanese Zeros and other fighters, and the Corsairs were superb ground attack aircraft, much appreciated by the Marines.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter

Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter

The P-38 Lightning was one of the most distinctive and deadly aircraft of the war, known for its twin fuselages, high speed, and incredible maneuverability. A Lightning shot down the Japanese transport carrying Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, and squadrons of Lightnings were instrumental in turning back the final German winter offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber

Flown from bases in England and Italy, the B-17 Flying Fortress was one of the iconic aircraft of the European war. More heavily armed than any earlier bomber, the Flying Fortresses’ bristling machine guns foiled the missions of many Luftwaffe Focke Wulf and Messerschmitt pilots. However, on their early missions, before they could be escorted all the way to their bombing assignments, even their massive defensive armament could not prevent up to 30% of all engaged aircraft from being shot down by German pursuit planes.

North American P-51 Mustang fighters

North American P-51 Mustang fighters

The P-51 Mustang was the primary escort of the B-17 Flying Fortresses in Europe. Prior to the advent of the Mustangs, American and British long-range bombers could only be escorted partway on their missions, which led to appalling losses of air crews and aircraft on numerous flights. The Mustang’s long range and superior flight characteristics allowed it to accompany the bombers all the way to Germany and back and to outmatch the capabilities of the German pursuit planes. So many Luftwaffe pilots were killed by Mustangs that from D-Day forward, the Allies generally had air superiority in the Western European theater.

Douglas A-26 Invader light bomber

Douglas A-26 Invader light bomber

The A-26 Invader was utilized as either a light bomber or a ground attack aircraft (its nose cone could either be utilized as a bombardier’s station or as a gun module mounting as many as eight .50 caliber machine guns, or a 20mm or 37mm auto cannon, or even in some cases a 75mm howitzer. It served in late campaigns in both Europe and the Pacific and was later deployed in the Korean War, the French Indochina War, and the Vietnam War, proving its versatility by adapting to many mission types.

The B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber, the follow-up to the B-17 Flying Fortress, is best known for being the aircraft that carried out the atomic bombings over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a very advanced aircraft for its time, featuring a pressurized cabin and an electronic fire control system which controlled four automated machine gun turrets. It served in the U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force until the end of the 1950s. Only a single example, nicknamed Fifi, is still flight worthy. Accordingly, Fifi was one of the last airplanes to fly over the National Mall during the V E Day commemoration.

The final formation in the presentation was the Missing Man Formation, which featured a Grumman TBM Avenger, a Vought F4U Corsair, a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk (the famous “Flying Tiger”), and a North American P-51 Mustang, saluting the more than 400,000 American airmen, sailors, soldiers, and Marines who died in combat during World War 2. This year and last have seen an impressive array of anniversaries: the 200th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812; the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War; the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One; and the 70th anniversary of the close of World War Two. This may be the last major anniversary of V E Day during which surviving veterans of the conflict will be present to witness. The vets are now in their late eighties or nineties. My cousin Joe Miller received the Bronze Star for heroism during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest in Germany, the longest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army, which took place over a three month period between September and December, 1944. He never spoke about it; it was a military setback for the Allies which cost the lives of over 33,000 killed or incapacitated Americans. Joe has been gone for about seven years now. I miss him, and I am thankful for the service he gave as a young man. I was extremely privileged to have stood on the same ground yesterday with other men and women who sacrificed years of their youth and often their physical and mental health to save the world from Nazism and Japanese militarism.

Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber

Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber

What a Birthday Cake!

Andys Birthday Cake

Last month I hit a milestone birthday, the big “Five-Oh.” Dara threw me a marvelous party at the Amphora Restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia. Friends and family gathered around a long table and enjoyed Greek specialties. My sister Robyn came up from Tampa, my father flew in from San Diego, and my wonderful high school friends Maury and Larry drove down from Brooklyn. After a rough forty-ninth year, filled with health problems, it was good to close the curtain on that year and begin afresh, surrounded by loved ones.

The big surprise of the evening was the cake, an “anatomically correct” version of Veena, the green alien girl who seduced Captain Pike in the pilot Star Trek episode “The Cage,” later re-cut as the two-part episode, “The Menagerie.” The waiters thought the cake was hilarious and arranged my candles rather strategically. My son Levi nearly choked with laughter when they brought it out.

veena

Here’s the original Veena. I think our cake chef caught her likeness quite well, don’t you?

Surefire Indication of a Wave Election

front page of 11/5/2008 Washington Post, laminated, for sale at Rainbow Gifts for $8/copy, now discounted to $5/copy

front page of 11/5/2008 Washington Post, laminated, for sale at Rainbow Gifts for $8/copy, now discounted to $5/copy

____________________________________________________________________________

I voted yesterday, then promptly “forgot” an election was going on. I didn’t bother to listen to the results last night and did not tune in to the radio or Internet on my ride into work. So I didn’t know who had won in Virginia, or if the Democrats had held the Senate, or if the Republicans had taken the Senate, or if they had, by how many seats.

Beneath my office suite, underground on the main retail level of my building, is a sundries and gift shop called Rainbow Gifts. As long as I have been eating lunch at a table next to their entrance, the “featured item” nearest the door has been a laminated Washington Post front page from November 5, 2008 with the giant headline, “Obama Makes History.” Taped to the laminated page is a hand-written note that says, “Do you need a copy? If so, please speak to the cashier. $8”

Out of curiosity, I took a peek first thing this morning before heading upstairs to my cubicle. The laminated front page is still hanging where it had always been hanging. It still has a hand-written note taped to it. Only the note now reads:

“Do you need a copy? If so, please speak to the cashier. $5”

That $3 discount represents a decrease of 37.5% — a very husky overnight reduction. Even the price of gas hasn’t been going down that fast.

I guess this means “Obama Makes History” in a different way: biggest losses to a sitting president’s party in a mid-term election???

Theodore Sturgeon’s Law for October 31, 2014

ted04c

Happy Halloween! Something about the day and the morning’s train ride to work got me thinking about Sturgeon’s Law, which can be paraphrased as, “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crap, but then 90% of everything is crap.”

This is, quite possibly, the most famous quote to ever emerge from the universe of science fiction. So famous that not a day goes by without the quote appearing in a news article.

That notion got me curious. In what news articles would Sturgeon’s Law be quoted or referred to on Halloween, 2014?

Google makes life easy for those embarking on such absurd quests. I found a grand total of 26 news articles that fit my criteria. I selected a sample of four.

One, “Artists expected to toe the official line,” is about the travails of Irish artists who dare to criticize their local art scene. Another, “I like most films I watch. Am I a sucker?” is about a desire by a film critic to watch and enjoy bad films. The third, “Tuba instructor works hard to fight musical stereotypes,” is about a song a tuba instructor composed in order to fight prejudice against tuba players (really). And the fourth, “Tim Cook Makes Waves, Creates Ripple Effect,” is about the CEO of Apple coming out as gay. Richard Adhikari, the author of the last article, writes for TechNewsWorld, E-Commerce Times, and LinuxInsider.com and mentions Sturgeon’s Law in his byline self-description block, so Theodore Sturgeon is mentioned (indirectly and parenthetically) in every single article he writes.

This is a fun little game. If I get enough positive feedback, I may make this a recurring feature of FantasticalAndrewFox.com. What say you?

Will Be At Capclave on Sunday, 10/12/14

Capclave Dodo: "Where reading is not extinct"

Capclave Dodo: “Where reading is not extinct”

After this past year of personal tsuris, I’m easing myself back into convention appearances with a one-day stop at Capclave, the Washington Science Fiction Association’s annual convention, “where reading is not extinct.” I’m scheduled for only one event, a half-hour reading on Sunday at 4 PM, the tail-end of the convention. I’ll read an excerpt from Fat White Vampire Otaku. If you’re planning to be at Capclave, I’d sure appreciate your staying until the “bitter end” to hear me read; getting attendees for a reading is always a challenge (unless you’re the GOH, and even then it can be a challenge), and the challenge is quadrupled when your reading is the last bit of programming on the convention’s final day.

The primary accomplishment I’d like to walk away from Capclave with this year is reconnecting with friends whom I haven’t seen in a year, or making new friends. I’d especially enjoy connecting with a circle of friends in the Northern Virginia area, since Dara and I (I, especially) have found it a bit difficult to establish new social ties in the five years we’ve been up here.

Here’s the info on attending Capclave:

Location: Hilton Washington DC North/Gaithersburg,
620 Perry Parkway, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20877

Membership cost: $60 (a special rate of $25 is available for Active Military, dependents of Active Military, and students)

Guests of Honor:
Paolo Bacigalupi
Holly Black
Genevieve Valentine

“Capclave is a small relaxed literary convention with a program that usually focuses on the short fiction form. Our Guests of Honor and other notable authors, editors, artists, and fans of the short fiction form will explore the creation and enjoyment of short fantasy and science fiction genre stories.

“Past Capclaves have hosted discussions with authors and fans; readings by authors; a dealer’s room with books, magazines, artwork, crafts, and other science fiction and fantasy related items; exhibits by artists; space science presentations from NASA; a hospitality suite; room parties; interesting conversations with other fans and professionals; and a relaxed atmosphere for visiting old friends and meeting new friends.”

David Myers, I Will Miss You With All My Heart

Myers_DG

My morning began with a shock — one not wholly unexpected, but a shock, nonetheless. I learned from a message his sister-in-law Cynthia left on his blog, A Commonplace Blog, literary critic D. G. Myers (David to me) passed away from cancer this past Saturday, Shabbat Shuvah (the Sabbath of Repentance), at the age of sixty-two.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, David was a friend. A true friend. I can’t remember now how I stumbled upon his wonderful blog, so rich with essays about standout writers and books from the past hundred years. I think perhaps I was searching for articles on Philip Roth, a particular favorite of David’s, or on Saul Bellow’s novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet, which I intended to read. After reading David’s incisive, compelling essay, I found myself going back for more and more; his blog is a cornucopia of riches, some of the best book-related reading I have found on the Internet. I began leaving David messages on his blog, and when we struck up a personal correspondence, we discovered we shared a love of science fiction. David was primarily familiar with Philip K. Dick (see his essay on The Man in the High Castle here), but he was a self-described novice regarding the rest of the SF field, and he asked me for recommendations of new books coming out that he should review. I sent him several lists compiled from the Locus Online list of forthcoming books, which David really appreciated.

Our correspondence grew more personal, particularly on my side. He provided much sympathy and needed perspective when I suffered an estrangement from my mother and step-father two years ago. Then, when my oldest son became very ill, he was again a pillar of support. We exchanged many messages when he suffered the great disappointment of being let go (most unfairly, I think) from his post as literary critic for Commentary Magazine, a position he had cherished.

As his cancer, formerly in remission, returned and worsened, David’s essays grew more infrequent and more personal. The last essay he posted was perhaps the most poignant. I consider it a small masterpiece of wisdom regarding the approach of death. It is called “Choosing Life in the Face of Death.” It is an essay which I expect to refer back to regularly as I proceed along life’s down slope. Please take a few moments to read it; you will be very grateful that you did. In a media (the Internet) so choked with the ephemeral and inessential, this is a piece of thinking, feeling, and writing which deserves to last, and which will last.

David, may your memory be for a blessing. Knowing you and reading you has been a blessing for me.

More tributes to David can be found here. Also, Cynthia, David’s sister-in-law, has posted information on memorial funds which have been set up in David’s memory, as well as funds for his three children.

I’m Back

Dear readers of this blog,

In case any of you have been worried about me, due to my silence on this blog over the past couple of months, I’d like to reassure you that, although I recently went through a very rough time, I am now back at work and am gradually returning to my routine activities (such as moderating and updating this blog). Unfortunately, I still can’t provide a date as to when the paperback version of Fat White Vampire Otaku will be available or when my other completed novels will be out from MonstraCity Press, either in ebook or trade paperback form. Right now, taking care of our boys and their needs is a full-time job for Dara, and it is almost a second full-time job for me. I can’t predict when she will find herself with the spare time and spare energy to return to her role at MonstraCity Press. However, in the meantime, I will endeavor to update this blog reasonably regularly with fresh content. Thank you all for your patience and understanding and for your continuing support. It means the world to me.

Best wishes to all,
Andy Fox

Fat White Vampire Otaku Paperback Delayed

I need to apologize to those of you who have been waiting for Fat White Vampire Otaku to be released in trade paperback. That is still in the works, but Dara’s and my family situation has delayed it, likely until the fall. This summer, Dara, who handles all of MonstraCity Press’s editing and formatting tasks, has been completely occupied with taking care of our children and other important family matters. I anticipate that she will be able to return to her MonstraCity Press activities come the fall, when the children are back in school. Until then, I can only ask those of you who prefer traditional paperbacks over electronic books to continue to be patient. Thank you so much.

Post-War Lives of the Civil War Monitors

USS Catskill on coast defense duty, 1898

USS Catskill on coast defense duty, 1898

The US Navy built more than forty ironclad monitor warships during the Civil War (some of them weren’t completed until after the war was over). Some of these monitors had surprisingly long service lives, being pulled out of mothballs for harbor defense duty during the Spanish American War; some even lasted into the first decade of the twentieth century before being scrapped.

I’ve been doing research on the navies of 1862 for my third book in the August Micholson Chronicles, Fire on the Waters, and I came across these fascinating photographs of vessels of the US monitor fleet in their dotage. Some of these photos are so clear and sharp, you almost feel as if you are standing on a dock and staring across the water at an actual monitor.

USS Jason, ex-USS Sangamon, being fitted out at the New York Navy Yard, 1898

USS Jason, ex-USS Sangamon, being fitted out at the New York Navy Yard, 1898

It’s also fascinating to see how much additional superstructure got added to some of the monitors for their Spanish American War service, a complete repudiation of the builder of the first monitor, John Ericsson’s dictate that the decks of a monitor should be cleared for all-around fire. But the superstructure was necessary to make extended service on the vessels bearable for their crews, for temperatures rose to awful heights below decks, and the below-decks spaces were cramped and suffered from poor ventilation.

USS Onondaga in the French Navy

USS Onondaga in the French Navy

One of the river monitors, the double-turreted USS Onondaga was sold to France after the Civil War and, after crossing the Atlantic (a heroic feat for such a low-freeboard vessel as a monitor) served in the French Navy from 1867 until the early 1870s. She was then mothballed and was not scrapped until 1904.

USS Camanche, 1898

USS Camanche, 1898

All of the pieces of the USS Comanche were fabricated on the East Coast during the Civil War and were then shipped to the West Coast to be put together at the Mare Island Naval Station. Because of this unusual method of building, she was not completed until after the war, when she was placed in mothballs. Here she is off Mare Island during the Spanish American War, perhaps hoping for the war service she failed to see thirty-five years earlier.

Uss Lehigh and USS Montauk, 1902

Uss Lehigh and USS Montauk, 1902

After the Spanish American War, the monitors were quickly mothballed again. Here is a wonderful photo of the USS Lehigh and the USS Montauk at rest in the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1902. The last survivor of the Civil War monitors was the USS Canonicus, veteran of the attack on Fort Fisher. She was towed from Florida to Hampton Roads, Virginia in mid-1907 to take part in the Jamestown Exposition as the last surviving Civil War ironclad. She was finally scrapped the following year.

USS Canonicus, 1907

USS Canonicus, 1907

%d bloggers like this: